What does five dirhams mean to you? To the majority of the population of the UAE, this is roughly how much it costs to feed the families they support in their home countries for a day. Yet, many of them pay more than a 1,000 times this amount to come here to work. These "fees" could have fed their families for more than a year. Instead, they are pocketed by unscrupulous recruitment agents. The consequences are far-reaching and for the nation they ought to be a call to action.
Seven months ago The National raised the issue of recruitment firms extorting illegal fees from labourers with the Ministry of Labour. Seven months later, the investigations are ongoing. Since our original story, a handful of companies have been brought to justice. Many others are still in business. Investigations take time. The nature of the crime cannot be allowed to rush due process or trump consideration of the rule of law. It should also be realised that the continued operation of these recruitment firms is an affront to the law of the land. The consequences of their activities extend beyond mere theft.
Debt weighs heaviest on the poor. In 2008, Girish Kumar tied his wife and their 20-month-old daughter to himself as he leapt into the Dubai creek. Because of his mounting debts, he took his life and the lives of his family. Along with the Kumar family, 82 more Indian expatriates committed suicide in that year to escape their debts. Thankfully, there are many in the UAE who have taken it upon themselves to help such individuals before tragedy strikes. Private organisations and charities fill the gaps that government cannot. When Jagadish Manikram was found comatose on the side of the road in Dubai, it was a private organisation that arranged to send him home. The group raised an astonishing amount of money including Dh43,000 to educate his children, but also Dh70,000 to pay the family's creditors, which included a recruitment agent.
Jagadish eventually died from his injuries, but his story is less tragic than those of many others who are the victims of these recruiters. Who will look after them?